A Comparison of Branded Content and Native Advertising

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Content marketing is an industry.

And just like any industry, there’s jargon. 

Two such examples are the terms “branded content” and “native advertising.” These are two popular content formats that are differentiated by a handful of subtle but important characteristics.

Unfortunately, not everyone working in content marketing realizes this. That’s why you’ll often see branded content and native content advertising used interchangeably, which is horribly misleading. If you’re going to excel at content creation, you need to know the differences when it comes to native advertising vs. branded content.

This will allow you to make a business case for choosing one practice over the other. You’ll understand the results each type of content drives and how much you need to invest to make each approach work. 

In this guide, we’ll teach you about the similarities and differences when it comes to native advertising vs. branded content. You’ll also learn about the best use cases for each type of content. 

But let’s start by getting our definitions straight.

What is Native Advertising

native advertising definition is that it is a form of paid content distribution in which a brand’s content appears in a third-party outlet (typically a news website or social media network) alongside the publication’s editorial content. It’s sometimes referred to as “sponsored content” or an “advertorial” because the information contained in the content is designed to match the form, feel, function, and quality of the publication’s other content.

A native advertisement will typically identify a problem the reader may have, and then offer up their product or service as a solution. Some publications will allow the brand to include a link back to their website in the ad, which can be helpful for SEO. 

Most native ads review come with some sort of tag denoting them as being promoted or sponsored content. Publications charge brands for these ads on a pay-per-click (PPC) or pay-per-impression (PPI) basis. This means that, based on your budget, the publication will determine how often your content is served to their audience.

The benefit of native commercial ads is that they can help expose your brand to a new audience in a way that’s not as overtly sales-y or disruptive as a run-of-the-mill advertisement. 

What is Branded Content Definition

Branded content is any kind of content produced by a brand (i.e. blog post, video, infographic, podcast, etc.) that is designed to provide value to the reader and establish a stronger connection with the brand.

Because of this, brand content usually favors storytelling over product promotion. Branded content ads often appears on a brand’s owned content hubs, although some brands may also pay to have their branded content appear in third-party publications. This means that branded content can be a native ad, but not all native ads are branded content.

One example of branded content that doubles as native advertising is this New York Times article about female inmates that was sponsored by Netflix as a way of promoting their hit show “Orange is the New Black.” On the flip side there’s Wooly, an online magazine operated by the mattress company Casper that produces content related to healthy sleep habits as a way to provide value to prospective customers. This is also considered branded content, even though the content is promoted on one of Casper’s owned content hubs.

The ultimate goal of branded content is to foster affinity with your target audience through helpful, engaging content. It can be entertaining, educational, or surprising—but it cannot be an overt sales pitch.

If done right, branded content can deliver some powerful results. Brand recall for branded content is 59% higher than display ads. Consumers are also 9% more likely to make a purchase from a brand with branded content. 

Native Advertising vs. Branded Content: Key Differences

The overarching difference between native advertising vs. branded content is that the former prioritizes product promotion (although not as blatantly as, say, a display ad) while the latter focuses on storytelling and brand building.

This nuance can be tricky to identify. If you’ve had trouble differentiating the two in the past, here are a few ways you can tell if you’re looking at branded content or a native ad:

  • Sentiment: How do you feel after reading the content? Did you learn something new? Did you have an emotional reaction? Did you want to go check out the brand and learn more about their products and services? How the content makes you feel is a good indicator of whether it was native advertising or branded content. If you learned something new or felt entertained, chances are you were looking at branded content. If you felt compelled to make a purchase, it was more likely native advertising. 
  • Virality: Another good indicator of content type is it’s shareability. Generally speaking, native ads aren’t the type of content that goes viral. Branded content, on the other hand, is often designed to go viral. Perhaps one of the best examples of viral branded content in recent memory is The Lego Movie, which single-handedly propelled Lego to become one of the most famous brands in the world. 
  • Production value: Another good indicator when learning native advertising vs. branded content is production value. Typically, branded content has a significant investment behind it (i.e. The Lego Movie). It also costs money to place native ads in third-party publications, but brands typically invest more heavily in branded content then they do native advertising.
  • Location: The last, and perhaps most obvious indicator, is where the content is located. Simply put, if the content exists on the brand’s owned channels, like a blog or social media page, it’s branded content. If it exists on a third-party website, it’s more likely native advertising. But this is where things can get a bit tricky, as some brands turn their branded content into native ads. Therefore, it’s important to review this type of content for sentiment, virality, and production value to determine its intent.

Native Advertising vs. Branded Content: How to Choose

Now that you know the differences between native advertising vs. branded content, you’re probably wondering which makes the most sense for your business. By and large, brands use a mixture of both in order to promote their products and increase brand awareness. 

But each is used situationally. If you’re unsure when it makes sense to go with native advertising vs. branded content, ask yourself the following questions:

How Much Do We Want to Mention Our Brand in the Content?

If you want to create a piece of content that makes the reader aware of your products or services, you’re going to need to mention your brand somewhere. This means your content is better suited to a native ad. If your goal is to engage and entertain the reader, it’s easier to do so if you’re not trying to sell them anything. This means you should go for a piece of branded content.

How Do We Want to Share This Content?

If you solely want this content to live on your owned content hubs, then by default it’s branded content. If you want to promote it in third-party outlets, but use it to foster trust and affinity, it’s also branded content.  Native articles meaning those that are published in third-party outlets with a plug for your product or service.

Who is Your Target Audience?

Generally, branded content is a great way to engage with your current audience, while also exposing your brand to some new consumers (depending on how viral your content is). Native advertising, on the other hand, allows you to pick the outlet where your content will appear. This means you can hone in directly on the audience you want to engage with.

How Much Are You Willing to Spend?

Perhaps the most important question is your budget. Like we said, branded content can be expensive. Native advertising is cheaper, but still requires some spend. How much each will cost depends on the type of content, the outlet, and your goals. It’s best you figure out how much you’re willing to spend before figuring out which one makes sense for your business. 

Native Advertising vs. Branded Content: How Knotch Can Help

Knotch is the Content Intelligence Platform used by enterprise brands to measure, strategize, and optimize their content marketing efforts. Through our content measurement platform, Knotch Measurement, we can track the quantitative and qualitative impact of your branded content and native ads and surface key metrics and insights in a customized dashboard.

What’s more, our content planning software, Knotch Blueprint, can scour the competitive landscape to help you identify the best publishers for your brand to work with based on theme, audience, content category, and engagement.

You can also glean insight into your competition’s content strategy, publishing cadence and themes, identify whitespace and gaps in messaging, review competitors’ content investments across brands, publishers, and industries, and vet potential publishers and partners—all of which can help you create native ads and branded content that will maximize your content marketing ROI.

Anjali Tiwari

Anjali Tiwari

Anjali Tiwari is a content writer at Fraction Digital, she is passionate about learning new things and writing about them so the topics can be easy to understand, she likes to read and travel.

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